From Honolulu to Hanalei to Haena…Or, How I Fell in Love With Hawaii in 10 Days

OK OK I can see it now…I can see why Hawai῾i is on everyone’s travel bucket list. It truly is a spectacular, beautiful tropical paradise kind of place.  I knew that I would enjoy my trip there – who wouldn’t? But I had no idea that Hawai῾i, especially Kaua῾i, would find a place in my heart…Paris graciously moved over some to give her some room. Merci, Mahalo.

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Went from snowzilla to this!!

I know that I was amazingly fortunate in that I had many experiences that I most certainly would not have experienced if I had come here alone, as a tourist. So I am incredibly grateful to Doug for bringing me along and for showing me his world, his place.  I am so glad that I had the opportunity to work beside this man that I love on a project that is so precious to him, and now to me.

We were in Hawai῾i to work on this: www.pacificworlds.com, which, as it says in the about page, “is a vehicle for cultural preservation and the perpetuation of indigenous traditions in the Pacific. In this role, it presents Pacific Islands—from Pacific-Islander perspectives—to the entire world. Whether you are a tourist or a scholar, this site will transform your understanding of Pacific cultures and environments. Second and more specifically, Pacific Worlds comprises an indigenous-geography education project serving Hawai‘i-Pacific Schools.”

Doug started the project in the early 2000s and traveled to Hawai‘i and several islands in the Pacific, interviewing many people about their land, their history and their culture. He documented all of the interviews and while he was a professor at Towson University he continued to work on the site and created curriculum.  Around 10 years ago he took a job as Senior Geographer at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian and this project had to be put on the back burner while he worked on other things (including his recently-opened exhibit on Hawaiian Sovereignty.)  Thankfully Doug was able to return to the Pacific Worlds project due to the generosity of the US Forest Service, which gave him a grant to update the website with a focus on current conservation efforts in Ha῾ena, which just happened to be the first community he completed for the site. So…off we went!

We spend our first few nights in Honolulu recovering from jet lag.

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Waikiki Beach

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MMM Mai Tai

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Me with my ginger lei (still in my east coast plane clothes!)

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Sunset on Waikiki

We played tourist in Waikiki and Doug gave me a whirlwind tour of some of his favorite places and past haunts around Honolulu, we had drinks and connected with some dear friends and in what seemed the blink of an eye we were off for Kaua῾i, and Ha῾ena.

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Kauai from the air

We settled into the sweetest digs, Auntie Sunny’s oceanfront cottage which was a score! As it was quaint, charming, so close to Ha῾ena with this amazing view AND was cheaper than any of the closest hotels or condos (in the not so charming Princeville).

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Auntie Sunny’s oceanview cottage

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Aunti Sunny’s cottage ocean view…sigh

But  we didn’t have much time to take in the views as we were off as soon as we arrived to the first of many meetings with the community. This one was held at the beautiful Limahuli Gardens.  Doug gave an overview of what we were there to do and we learned about many of the exciting projects that were happening all around us in Ha῾ena.

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Limahuli Gardens Visitor Center and Office

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Taro fields (Lo’i) in the garden

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Some of the beautiful tropical flowers

I could write a book about everything I learned about Hawai῾i and Kaua,’i and Haen῾a on this trip  (as if this blog post wasn’t already getting to be book length!) It’s a particularly special place both from a historical view and a spatial one.  I can’t begin to tell the history but I can show the beautiful land. I interpreted (hopefully correctly) from all the things I learned that Ha῾ena is both a place (῾aina, or land) and a community (hui), which are all are part of the ahupua῾a of Ha῾ena. Here’s a pretty good description of an ahupua῾a that I found on the internets:

“One of the most salient features of the native Hawaiian social structure was the ahupua῾a, a traditional land and sea tenure system where local communities and resource systems were organized. Typically, an ahupua῾a encompassed an entire watershed, from the top of the ridge to the deep sea. Resources were managed in a hierarchal fashion and tasks were stratified socially and by occupation. Each individual ahupua῾a was managed by a local leader, a Konohiki, who was granted the authority by the ruling chiefs. Different uses of land and sea occurred in different areas of the ahupua῾a. The upland forest was reserved for gathering wood and hunting, the fertile valley floor was used to grow taro in irrigated pond-fields called lo῾i, rivermouths were encircled by walls for fishpond aquaculture, and expert fishermen, po’o lawai’a, oversaw offshore fishing.”

One of the many things that is striking about Haen῾a is that you can see the linkage between the mountain and the valley and the sea…you can see how the land flows from the mountain (in this case Makana mountain)

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That’s Makana in the distance

to the sea,

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so you get, viscerally, how interconnected it all is, and you can understand how the people of Ha῾ena lived on and off of the land.

As Doug wrote previously, what makes Ha῾ena unique is that much of the land is controlled by Limahuli Gardens and the Ha‘ena State Park. Unlike many places in Hawai῾i it is relatively undeveloped (as I mentioned there are no big resorts there), so the community was able to work out an arrangement with the state that allows them to take ῾care of, or malama, their ῾aina. They formed a 501c3 in 1998 called the Hui Maka῾ainana o Makana whose mission has been “to restore Hawaiian values and stewardship practices.”

Because much of the traditional lo῾i (land for growing taro) area of Ha῾ena was intact within the boundaries of the State Park,  the Hui Maka῾ainana o Makana worked out an agreement with the state that allowed them to clear the land and plant taro. And they worked for over ten years to convince the state to pass a law creating a Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area in Ha῾ena. The law, which was the first in Hawai῾i and was finally passed last year, sets limits on the amount of certain fish and shellfish that can be caught or harvested and  places restrictions on the types of fishing equipment and methods that can be used, and it prohibits commercial fishing – in other words, it relies on generations of knowledge on how to fish sustainably.

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In a similar vein, the Limahuli gardens are working to bring back native forests and plants. They have restored a native forest and have greatly reduced the invasive species.  And they also have planted a gathering garden, where members of the community can come to gather plants that are used in hula and other ceremonies.

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Surreally, that was my world for 8 too short days, talking to members of the hui about their lives, the lives of their ancestors, their land, their traditions…everything. We talked with Makaala, who works for the Hanalei watershed and who is a tireless defender of both the environment and of the culture. We talked with Carlos and Samson, the two guides to Ha῾ena that Doug featured in the first Ha῾ena web site, so full of knowledge about the history of Ha῾ena (Carlos just wrote a book about Ha`ena and  until not all that long age Samson rode horses and rescued stranded travelers on the Na Pali trail on horseback…not for the faint of heart!) We worked the lo῾I with Keli῾i and Nalani, who invited us to their house to talk about their lives growing up fishing and farming in Ha`ena and how much it means for them to retain a connection to the land. We talked to Presley and Uncle Tom, kupuna and fishermen who were instrumental in getting the CBSFA passed.  So much knowledge, or na῾auao. Then there were the people at the Limahuli Gardens, Kawika the director who has been working so hard to bring back the traditional trees and plants and practices. And Lahela, who shared stories of growing up in Ha῾ena just as she shares her culture with visitors to the gardens. We also went to Lihu῾e to interview Andy Bushnell, a historian who gave us an overview of native Hawaiians first contact with early explorers on Kaua῾i. And the other people at the garden and in the hui, so many other wonderful people…

So I was able to be in this beautiful place, surrounded by lush green gardens and fragrant flowers and the mountain and sand and the sea and the smell of the ocean, all the while listening to the history of the land and the sea from people with a history and deep deep connection to the place. I was most honored to have been invited to work day at the lo῾i, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, so lush and green. It was a day I will never forget, mud and all…

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People pay hundreds of dollars for this mud wrap

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Women with scythes

The whole experience was indescribable (I know that I have already taken too many words to try to describe it and still I don’t think I could begin to describe the feelings).  And my feelings ran the gamut. Beauty and wonder and awe and humbleness and gratefulness.

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But there was also for me a sense of sadness and anger when I thought about the economic unfairness of it all.  Practically none of the members of the community live in Ha῾ena. Some of them have chosen to live elsewhere, that’s true, and as I mentioned much of the land in Ha῾ena itself is now part of the garden or the state park. But there are houses and properties all along the north shore of Kaua῾i…it’s just that the vast majority of them are super expensive.  I know that I know very few people who could afford to live anywhere near Ha῾nea now, myself included.  The sad truth is that many of the people in the community can’t afford to go back to live there either, even if they wanted to. And those who were able to retain their land couldn’t afford to stay because the high priced real estate around them raised their property taxes so much that it priced them out. It just makes you think.  Are those people who buy those million dollar beachfront estates interested in the history of the community in which they live?  Sigh…

But, despite that part (which I just can’t help thinking about – as I told my co-workers you can take the girl outta CEPR but you can’t take the CEPR outta the girl),  it was so super awesome, as my daughter Jordan would say. When we weren’t busy interviewing we were off photographing various places for the website:
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including this heiau that was set in the most spectacular setting I think I’ve ever seen.

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Doug chanting permission to enter the heiau

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We went to Hanalei to interview Makaala

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Downtown Hanalei

and then went for a swim in the striking Hanalei Bay.

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We ate poke and poi (made in Hanalei and even in Ha῾na! I know it’s an acquired taste but I liked it).

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Fresh Hanalei poi!

We had lau lau

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Our gift from Keli’i and Nalani

and drank rum and pineapple juice. We went swimming at Ke῾e beach

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and hiked a teeny tiny bit up the Na Pali Coast trail.

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And the best part? I get to go back, in July. Hallelujah!

The day we were leaving we headed out to the gardens to give back the key to the gate to the lo῾i, which had graciously been loaned to us by Presley. The waves were super high that day, so we were looking at the beach as we drove by and we saw Uncle Tom, looking at the waves too. Doug pulled over to take some more pictures for the website and Uncle Tom and I had a chat about the weather and about fishing and I told him about the Chesapeake Bay and rockfish and blue crabs, and how my dad loved to catch blue crabs and we just chatted and looked at the sea. And I felt Ernie there on that beach. It was sweet.

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A tres bientot Ha῾ena. Aloha…Aloha nui loa.

 

 

A Field Trip in France is Fun!

While one can most certainly spend all one’s time in Nice when one is lucky to find oneself in Nice, it seemed crazy to ignore the other splendid sites of the Cote d’Azur. So one day I asked my travelin’ companion to look at a map and to choose someplace for a day trip. The only requirement was that it had to be accessible by the most wonderful Cote d’Azur bus line, which costs all of 1 euro 50 and travels up and down the  coast as well as up into the mountain villages.

Since we knew that we wanted to visit a town on the Italian side of the Riviera another day, he suggested that we visit Peille, (pronounced PAY) a town about an hour (NE) by bus from Nice. I agreed that it looked like the perfect choice and after an hour of the most zig-zagiging, hair-raising scary turns…up up up some mountains (they don’t call them the ALPes Maritimes for nothing), we were there.  Me a little worse for wear, just happy to be off the bus and hoping that it would be worth the take-your-life-into-your-hands bus ride. I kept telling myself that the driver has done this over and over and over again so no need to clutch my companion’s arm so hard that he probably still has marks. All that to say, we made it, yay!

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Yes worth it indeed

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A charming village blessedly not swarming with other tourists (said knowing that we are tourists and there were some fellow tourists there, but, well, you know what I mean, I hope).

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We wandered through the charming cobble-stoned streets looking for a place to eat, as it was lunchtime, and well, really most of our time was spent thinking about eating and drinking or actually eating and drinking, truth be told. I had of course searched the internets for reviews of restaurants in town and unsurprisingly (remember the not so touristy bit above) there were few and far between. But there was a recommendation for the 20 euro lunch at Cauvin Chez Nana and since the only other place we passed didn’t seem all that inviting we gave it a shot.

I’m not sure how to describe the place…quaint and kind of charming in a quirky way on the one hand, and something just a bit off somehow on the other. The food wasn’t bad; some of the dishes were actually very good (including my obviously homemade richly sauced daube)  but the service was Incredibly SLOOOOW, and absent minded to the point where, closing in on 2 hours in and no sign of the third and final dessert course (we were the only customers for the better part of the day), I asked the server in my best French if we could please just have the check and said that we’d pay the full price without dessert. She pretended not to hear me, slapped the menu down and pointed for us to choose a dessert, which, feeling like we had no say in the matter, we did. Resigned to spend the rest of the day inside the once charming but now suffocating dining room we were at least cheered when she brought us a strange bottle with some kind of homemade digestif, gratis. A kind of grappa or marc with unidentified herbs inside.

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Several shots later we decided it wasn’t so bad there after all and we managed to wolf down our desserts, pay our bill and make our escape, laughing all the way.

Of course after all that food, wine and grappa, our original idea of hiking through the mountains to the pedestrian only really charming perched town of Peillon was totally out of the question. Besides, we only had about an hour before the LAST bus of the day was leaving and we were warned that we’d better not be one second late. So we hiked just a bit into the mountains and breathed in the glorious mountain air and basked in the sunshine and marveled at the beautiful mountain flowers.

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We even found an ancient ruin!

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Everything was bright and blue-skied!! Wheeee!! (and yes I’m quite sure that the digestif had nothing to do with our happy giddiness…)

We reluctantly made our way to the bus stop, full of mountain happiness (and ok, wine and grappa), climbed back on the bus and dozed on the somehow not as scary ride back down the mountain to the welcoming, as always, Nice.

As happy as we were to be back, we were glad that we had ventured out.

And next up, a field trip further afield…

It’s Been Said Many Times Many Ways But It’s True: Nice IS Nice!

Shhh, Paris…I cheated on you just a little! I’m sorry to say that I am also kinda in love with Nice. She (has to be a she) is just so beautiful, and colorful, and happy. I was happy to be there again, thanks to a good friend who hooked me up with someone who rented me a fabulous apartment, in a perfect location in the Old Town. It was on the first (FRENCH) floor, up a scary-steep set of ancient stone steps.

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But worth the exercise.
We explored the city with all of our senses, as Nice demands.

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Of course the first visit was to the beach. Nice’s beach is made up of stones, which takes some getting used to . But the Mediterranean is so gorgeous, you can’t help but follow your nose to the sea.

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We also walked to the port. Run, don’t walk, past the ostentatious yachts and toys of the rich and wanna be famous, to the other side, where these sweeeet fishing boats live. Gimme this any day. So colorful, so beautiful, so Nice.

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And of course we indulged in the marvelous, indescribable Nicoise cuisine.

If you find yourself in Nice, run, don’t walk, to the fish market at Place Francois. Find the “fish lady” and order the Pissala. Anchovy paste on steroids. She seems mean but is a softie underneath. Word.

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And, you must try all of the other Nicoise specialties. Socca, that seemingly boring simple chickpea flour crepe thing that you can only get in Nice. Go to Chez Pipo! Or if you are in the thick of the Old Town and are hungry (Like us)and  Lou Pilha Leva is insanely crowded (it was),  Bella Socca actually does a great platter of Socca, tapanade, fresh anchovies and farci, that other Nicoise specialty (think stuffed mushrooms, but also other veggies). SO good washed down with that only found in Nice wine, a delicious Bellet rose, on a rickety table crammed under the roof to escape the one shower we encountered in Nice. All that memory for 18 e.

We also had a beautiful plat de mer at the charmingly ancient Cafe de Turin, full of salty oysters and fresh head on shrimp. and some sea snails, delightful with a crisp not sweet muscat .

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And not to overlook the land, we also had an enjoyable evening at at restaurant serving, as my companion likes to say, loudly, MEAT! La Rossettisserie seems like your total tourist trap in the old town, but it has remarkably good food for an incredible low price. We had tender grilled lamb, a super wine in this beautiful old cellar. Just a perfect evening.

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We also really enjoyed our first meal at Le Comptoir du Marché, another non-touristy place in the Old Town. So fresh, so simple yet so delicious. The perfect welcome “home:..

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And last but certainly not least. we had a fabulously perfect light dinner of tapas at Tote et Mamie Charlotte, a sweet cafe in a sweet spot right off the Place Rossetti, owned by some really sweet women. Just perfect people watching on a balmy Nice evening. Sigh.

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After all that eating, we so enjoyed hiking high above the Old Town. It was a perfect temperature, a cool breeze and all that glorious sunshine.

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And yet the beach called us back, every night.

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Nice, we know that we will be back.You, too, enter the soul and don’t let go.

Such a Short Strange Trip It’s Been…Or, How I Was On My Way to Paris and Landed in Hawaii (Metaphorically Speaking)

Whew! It’s been a long time since I posted in this blog. And the events of the past year prove the age-old adage that a LOT can happen in 12 months. Sometimes you coast along in life, the years blending into one another, and then WHAM! You’re hit with life altering changes, all happening in a matter of a few short months. But as someone who is near and dear to my heart these days likes to say, “ain’t that what livin’s all about?” And I answer, as I always do, mais oui.

I left off last January, in Paris, communing with my women. There have been two trips to you know where since then: one last May that was pretty much like the one in January (only warmer),

How I feel in Paris, after my jump master Nancy

How I feel in Paris, after my jump master Nancy

full of time spent with ma best guuurl

Me and ma guuuurl xo

Me and ma guuuurl xo

and my other dear ones in Paris:

Picnic with some fellow hounds...bliss

Picnic with some fellow hounds…bliss

bahn mi lunches in secret gardens, long late night chats over tranches and wine,

It wasn't blue crab but thanks to the smuggled Old Bay it was close enough...

It wasn’t blue crab but thanks to the smuggled Old Bay it was close enough…

crab cake dinners, staying up to greet the dawn, vegemite for breakies, new faces

My favorite bartender in all of Paris. Miss you Salim!

My favorite bartender in all of Paris. Miss you Salim!

and sweet familiar ones.

well, it's the Queen's leg and not her face, but you get my drift...

well, it’s the Queen’s leg and not her face, but you get my drift…

Time spent wandering my streets and filling my soul.

always my picture

sigh, ma belleville

sigh, ma belleville

That lovely, bittersweet trip made me more determined to try to find a way to call Paris home, permanently. I came back full of plots and homework on how to possibly go about it, given to me by one of the ex-pat dear ones (who has since moved even further afield). Yes, I was bound and determined to find a way to move to Paris, sooner rather than later. Nothing was gonna keep me from living my dream!

And of course as these things happen, the universe took me in another direction…one I wasn’t looking for, for sure. And of course in retrospect I am so glad that I opened my ears long enough to hear what the universe was telling me. I didn’t plan on getting into a relationship. Was NOT looking for one. But there must have been some magical Hawaiian spirit calling my name, as one found me.

Me and HB

Me and HB

And it soon became apparent (to me and to pretty much everyone who came in contact with the two of us) that this relationship was meant to be. It has evolved organically. And I didn’t feel like I made a decision to not move to Paris. It just no longer seemed like an option. And that was ok. More than ok.

We had a fine summer. I learned to lash together and to sail a traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe! (in the Chesapeake Bay, Middle River no less!).

me and the canoe

me and the canoe

there she is in full sail

there she is in full sail

We even swamped once (that’s a tale worthy of its own post). Summer became Fall, which turned to Winter. I moved myself and my things into his lovely apartment in the trees in Mt Washington, And in December, over Christmas, I took him to Paris (trip number 2). thanks to the generosity of some of my above-mentioned dear ones who graciously loaned us their fabulous apartment for a week.

now there are 2

now there are 2

He's digging the vin chaud

He’s digging the vin chaud

carnavalet selfie!

carnavalet selfie!

sigh

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And so, here we are. I’ve learned many things from my Hawaii Boy (as my friends and I used to refer to him, and I still do when it fits). I look forward to learning a whole lot more. He’s one of the sweetest people I know. He brings out the best in me, he encourages me, he loves me and he cares for me. He makes me laugh. We iron out whatever differences and conflicts arise, asap, and get right back on with our sweet life. We’re in the process of buying a sweet house, not in Paris or Hawaii but home, right here in Baltimore City, hon. I am content.

I hope that my dear friends continue to walk the journey with me, as I asked in a previous post. I hope that my story has the intended consequence of helping anyone who cares to read it. Helping in the sense of pointing out just how serendipitous life can be, how important it is to plan, and to have dreams, but how equally important it is to keep an ear out to what the universe it saying.  And I hope that this new year marks a new chapter for everyone in my life, past, present and future. I want nothing but peace and happiness for everyone I know and love.

I’m still scheming on how I can travel and make the most of my life now while I figure out how to retire…just not sure where that will be. Maybe still France, or maybe Hawaii, or maybe I just might stay in my hometown, who knows? I just know that I will do my best to enjoy the ride.

Zoe’s story

To my dear friends far and wide,

I am turning over the pages of my blog to my niece Zoe (you can read more about the most awesome Zoe here). She wrote this elegant little story, on her phone. about the night she ran away to live the life that SHE wanted, in Hamburg. It’s beautiful. Just like her, and I am honored and humbled to share her words on my blog. Love you Zo xo

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“I’ll talk to you soon!” Then, a black screen. I have to think of a strategy, a way out. Right now. My fingers hastily dial a phone number. “I can’t leave, he’s still awake downstairs.”
-”Then pretend you want to drink a glass of water. When he’s not looking, make a run for it. I”ll meet you at the school parking lot in ten minutes.” The connection breaks. Now I’m on my own. It’s up to me. My whole future depends on it. I can’t take the bag I’ve prepared with my computer. I can’t even get dressed. I have to wear my pyjamas, so I don’t seem suspicious. At least my phone fits into my pants pocket. I stuff my backpack in my closet. I don’t know why, sort of as a final goodbye, I guess. One last look and then… oh, wait. A note. I quickly scribble a few sentences on a small paper. “Don’t worry about me. I’m there where I want to be. This is the only thing I could think of to make you understand.” I slowly open my bedroom door. I jump a little as it squeaks. I’m on the third floor. I have to go all the way down to the first. From there, two doors provide my means of escape: one in the back shed and the front door (if it’s not locked). I listen for footsteps, any signs of life coming from the building. I hear none, but that doesn’t relieve me at all. I know I have to move, though I’m almost paralyzed by the endless outcomes. I could get caught and then what? Awkward conversations (or rather he talks, I listen) and even more horrible silences. I cautiously begin my descend towards whatever awaits me. I flinch every time a floorboard makes noise. Miraculously, I make it down to the first floor. So far, so good. But where is he? Slowly, I enter the kitchen in the next room where I find nothing. I’m glad I don’t have to use the glass-of-water-technique then. I’m not so sure I could have pulled that of anyway. I wonder how he would react if I tried to run in front of him. Try to grab me? Chase after me? Or just let me go? No use thinking about it, I’m not sure how much time I have until he comes back. The flush of the downstairs toilet. Oh shit! I quickly place my note on the kitchen counter and dash towards the back door situated straight through a small corridor leading from the kitchen. The front door may already be locked since it’s about 9 pm. I pray that the back door is still open. Otherwise it’ll all have been for nothing. Is he already following me? Has he seen the note? Faster, faster! I fling myself towards the door and pry open the rusty old handle. And yes, it opens to reveal a patch of muddy grass. Without hesitating I sprint across the lawn, while stretching my hand out, ready to open the front gate. I can feel my heart beating wildly through my whole body. The whole neighborhood must be able to hear it. I can only form one thought, feel the adrenaline pulsing it in my veins: run, run, run! Once I’ve passed the gate, I almost immediately turn the corner onto the school parking lot. The school is conveniently situated right next to the house (or not, whatever way you see it). I scan the space for Jessy’s dark blue volvo, which isn’t hard to find, it’s the only car there. The fresh dew on the grass soaks through my socks. It’s uncomfortable, feeling the soft squish as I run. I’ve reached the car now. I can see her scared face through the window. I open the door and jump in. I thought I could relax a little when I got there, but I’m still as tense as before. There is an ambiance of fright and confusion. We don’t talk much, it’s all just a blur. I can’t concentrate on anything she’s saying. I listen to the engine coming to life and the sound of tires running over asphalt. We start to make our way to the autobahn, where she will be driving me to. We’ve arranged to meet up with two women, later referred to as “the kidnappers” by him, at a small gas station halfway between here and my destination. The heater has been turned on now, but I can’t get warm. The thoughts forming in my head are threatening to crush me under their weight. Is he following me? Or has he even called the police? I may be paranoid but I keep hearing sirens. I hate to have dragged Jessy into my mess. What if this will come back to get her later? What about her children? Have I driven him to a point of rage where he will use any means possible to get me back? Fear is not a word to describe how I feel. I have never been so petrified in all my life. I sit stiff in my seat, frozen in place. I look around for police cars, expecting them to be here any second. The phone rings. A quick conversation with the kidnappers. They’re one their way to the meeting place now. After what seems like a lifetime, we arrive at the gas station. It’s in the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for a crime.

My Girl’s Goin to Disney World !

Anyone reading my blog who is friends with me on facebook, or in “real life” (What’s that?:) ) knows that my girl Jordan was accepted into the Disney college program. And they also know that I am so very happy and proud of my girl! So if you are sick and tired of hearing about how happy and proud I am you don’t have to read further…I understand and would probably say “Dawn, shut UP already” if I were you. But I can’t help myself, I feel the need to document my feelings, and explain to anyone who cares to read exactly why I am so happy and so proud. And just maybe, somehow, someone may stumble across my silly little blog and be inspired by Jordan’s story. That would make me even more happy and proud.

I have written before about Jordan’s genetic metabolic disorder…please read this past post if you want more details of how Jordan came to be diagnosed with Very-Long Chain Co-Acyl Dehydrogenase Deficiency, or VLCAD for short. As I wrote, Jordan is deficient in an enzyme that breaks down fatty acids into glucose. So when she’s sick and can’t eat, or if she over exercises, her body can’t get enough energy and the fatty acids build up in her system and that causes many problems (and before her diagnosis, almost killed her).  The disorder is totally manageable now, she just has to make sure that she eats regularly and she probably can’t run a marathon.  She has learned what she needs to do to make sure she avoids trouble, and I think she would agree that on most days it doesn’t impact her life in any major way.

But, as I also wrote, she also suffered mild brain damage from the initial crisis. As I always say, Jordan’s IQ is in the average to high average range, and her emotional IQ is off the charts. And she has re-gained much ground from that dark time of her diagnosis. She’s just a little forgetful at times (aren’t we all?). Math is hard for her, as are most tests (more on that later) She has to work extra hard at some things, is all. Sigh. Even after writing all that, I can’t seem to capture, in words, all that I want to say about Jordan, and all that she’s been through, and why this Disney program means so much to her and to me. So this may sound jumbled, but I’ll try to just write from my heart, and try my best to explain…

Jordan in her signature pigtails with Mickey

Jordan in her signature pigtails with Mickey

I remember the year that Jordan was so sick, it was right after her diagnosis. Again, I will do my best to spare you all the gory details but she developed something called Eosinophilic gastritis. On top of the VLCAD Jordan also had multiple food allergies (we’re not sure at all if there is any relation), and soon after her metabolic crisis it seemed that her food allergies “flared up” to the point that she became allergic to almost every form of protein, which caused the lining of her stomach to swell (the eosinohils), which caused the outlet to her stomach to close almost completely shut…she began to vomit almost everything she ate, which then triggered the VLCAD…it was a nightmare of a time and we ended up rushing her to the ER at Johns Hopkins (only several months after she almost died), and she spent over a month in the hospital, on an IV while they gave her prednisone to relieve the swelling of her stomach tissue so that she could tolerate this special formula that they developed at Hopkins.

After spending over a month in the hospital we returned home (I say we because I spent every night with her there on a “chair bed” in her room, except for the night in the ICU when there was no chair bed and I crawled under her crib because I couldn’t sit up anymore and I refused to leave her and a nice nurse gave me a blanket and pillow) and Jordan, who was almost 2, had to survive on this nasty concoction of formula mixed with this special oil and vitamins that she had to have for her VLCAD. No solid food. Eight servings a day.  So I made it a special time and let her watch videos while she had her “milk”, and she watched every Disney movie I could get my hands on. Over and over, she sat there drinking that potion that was keeping her alive, for months, holding on to her Goofy or Mickey or Donald Duck doll, until we went back to Hopkins and she spent another couple weeks there being reintroduced to food. (For those who are wondering, Jordan outgrew most of the food allergies, but childhood was hard, especially birthday parties because she was allergic to milk and eggs and she couldn’t have ice cream and cake. Sigh. So we’re thrilled that ALL she’s allergic to now is peanuts, which is dangerous, but compared to what she’s been through, a piece of cake).

Here she is on her 2nd Birthday, eating some nasty rice four, egg-less oil cake...

Here she is on her 2nd Birthday, eating some nasty rice four, egg-less oil cake…

And another Lion King themed party...pure Jordan face

And another Lion King themed party…pure Jordan face

So Jordan grew out of the allergies but never out of her love for Disney…she loved all of the Disney films, but the one that really resonated was the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Nope, no princesses for my girl, she loved Simba too, but the Hunchback was her fave.  I know that she definitely felt a kinship with him, with anyone who was “different”, Jordan’s “differences” weren’t visible and they weren’t nearly as bad as what others have to suffer, but I know that she must have felt different from the other kids in some way, and so she loved Disney’s Hunchback.

Jordan and her Hunchback, in Dalmatian wear...

Jordan and her Hunchback, in Dalmatian wear…

And for me, it was a balancing act, how to not be overprotective on the one hand, and how to not be in denial on the other hand. I remember the time in Kindergarten, Jordan was in a private (awesome!) school in Boston and I was looking into where to send her for elementary school – I had found this affordable hippie lefty school that I thought Jordan would love – and the oh so kind principal of her kindergarten, who loved Jordan, pulled me aside and said, in her crusty New England direct but caring voice “You really need to send Jordan to a public school -she needs special ed services and they won’t be able to accommodate her in any of the private schools here”. So that was the first time it really hit me that Jordan’s crisis had caused some brain damage, which was confirmed after many visits to neurologists and tests and mores tests, so many tests. She had IEPs and 504s and all of the other special ed acronyms all through school, documents that said things like “Jordan needs to sit in the front of the room and she needs cues to stay on task”. “Jordan needs to be allowed to go to the nurse’s office whenever she needs a snack”. “Please ensure that Jordan has noted her homework assignments”. “Jordan requires additional time on tests”. “Jordan should be allowed to write in the test booklet”…ahh that last one, we finally figured out why Jordan failed all those miserable standardized tests. She just doesn’t fit the model, and in our test-crazy society that meant that she really bombed on the SATs, which, combined with her average grades (I won’t get into how I feel she was let down by her high school, that’s a whole blog post on its own), pretty much meant that she had no choice but to go to community college. Which is a good thing, and many kids do that and I’m happy that she’t thriving there, but she missed out on the opportunity that so many of my friends’ kids had, which was to go live in a dorm with a bunch of other girls…it just wasn’t an option for her. But now, thanks to the Disney College program, she’ll have that opportunity…she’s already been in touch with several girls in the program and they have formed a nice little support system. They ALL love Disney and video games and all the things that Jordan loves. Wow.

That makes me particularly happy because Jordan also suffered from bullying, particularly in middle school. My heart still breaks open when I remember the time she cried over a really mean thing that some of the “popular” girls said to her. It still brings tears to my eyes, because despite all of that, despite everything you’ve just read (thanks for sticking with me!), Jordan has THE sweetest, THE happiest disposition of anyone I know. I wrote on facebook that if anyone deserved to be in Disney World it’s Jordan…she is the only person I know who could tell people all day long to “Have a Magical Day”, and sincerely mean it. I think that maybe that’s why she was teased, she has such a child-like joy in the simplest things, in just about everything.  She just said to me today: “When am I never smiling”? And I had to admit that I can’t think of many times.

When we went to the “real” Notre Dame in Paris last year, she was literally shaking with excitement…and it all started with that Disney movie: “Mommy I Hunchback, you be Frollo, chase me” she’d say, and she’d laugh and laugh as we ran around, me yelling “Come here Hunchback”…I have to be honest and say that so many times I’d think “Oh God, please, I just cannot be Frollo for one more minute”. But now, it makes me smile, and I feel so proud, so proud. Jordan, you are my hero, you with your non-cynical, accepting, non-judgmental nature…all those things make you the smartest person in the room as far as I’m concerned. You deserve this. You rock, and you are my rock…I love you forever, Mommy (aka Frollo)

Jordan as Simba...practicing for her future role?

Jordan as Simba…practicing for her future role?

Jordan and Ariel...led to this:

Jordan and Ariel…led to this:

and I should add: Major congrats to Jordan’s fiance Kevin, who is also goin to Disney World…he made the College Program too and leaves in August, YAY!!

Disney lovin lovebirds...

Disney lovin lovebirds…

Oui Audrey, Paris is Always a Good Idea…

So, yeah, I went to Paris, again. This time I really needed it. I needed to recharge my batteries, as trite as that sounds. I needed to be in my favorite place, that foreign city that feels like home to me, and I needed to have my soul soothed and I needed to be alone and to think and just to be. And Paris, being her fabulous beautiful difficult wonderful self, said ok, come on home baby, I am here, waiting for you.

And so I cashed in my remaining AA FF miles and I went, and was welcomed into my lovely little cocoon in the 11th arr…thank you Denise for your positive review because it was just perfect. And cheap! I miss this view…

my view

This trip was not a sightseeing mission. I went to one, count em one, museum…and I am not apologizing for it. And even then, I had issues. It was a fabulous exhibit at the Carnavalet (the Museum of the city of Paris, free) called (en francais) Roman d’un Garde-Robe: Le chic d’une Parisienne de la Belle Epoque aux années 30, which loosely translated means the novel of a wardrobe: one Parisian’s fashion from the 1900’s to the 30’s.  It contained the dresses, hats and accessories of a trend setting Parisian who helped launch 2 major French fashion houses, which of course appealed to my fashion loving side. So I enjoyed it very much from that aspect.

Some fashions in the exhibit, which was all in French, so I also practiced...

Some fashions in the exhibit, which was all in French, so I also practiced…

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But, as I reflected later, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after as I couldn’t help but wonder about all the workers who sewed those sequins and toiled to make those dresses and hats. I really wanted to see their pictures, and read their stories. I thought about them all afternoon. I guess you can take the girl outta CEPR, but you can’t take the CEPR outa the girl (See here to understand)

And so what did I do in Paris if I didn’t go sightseeing or museum hopping? I communed with my women. I was uplifted and inspired. I laughed and I listened and I was listened to. I am so very fortunate beyond words to have the deep good fortune to have so many good friends who have the deep good fortune to call Paris home, and how lucky I was to spend time with them, along with some fellow visitors who have also become my friends. I needed them and they came through, each and every one, French and American, Australian/New Zealander all Parisian by birth or by spirit. Un grand merci et beaucoup de bisous a Roniece, Nancy, Jane, Kathryn, Sue, Mez, Sylvia, Margarita et Axelle. I so enjoyed seeing you, and drinking with you and laughing out loud with you and breaking bread with you and walking and shopping and talking talking talking. Je vous embrasse. Toujours…

Some of my women...my Muriels...mes tres cheres...xoxo

Some of my women…my Muriels…mes tres cheres…xoxo

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I also wandered, I was lucky to have been spared the polar vortex freeze that has gripped the East coast of the US. Some rain (ah but Paris in the rain is still beautiful), so I was able to wander around and look at the known and not so known places that call to my soul. I spent a great afternoon in Montmarte…I always like to climb to Sacre Coeur and gaze out out upon “my” city and hold her in my hand. I was fortunate to have chosen the weekend of the Fete de Saint Jacques…only in France could you stumble upon a scallop festival.

a walk through Montmarte

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DSC00069 DSC00082A nice young man from India and I took turns taking one another’s pictures

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I made my way through my adopted hoods, the 11th and the 20th – Republique, Oberkampf, Menilmontant. Belleville, Pere Lachaise, Gambetta – with no agenda, just taking it all in. I was green with envy at the markets, one literally right outside my front door. I sure love visiting Roniece in her lovely slice of heaven in the 5th, as she calls it. It is nice, I like it, but it isn’t home. I gravitate to the quartiers listed above, not sure why, just feels like home to me, like me.

My Paris

My Paris

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My apartment building on Blvd Richard Lenoir

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The markets!

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Menilmontant, my favorite hood. Met A at Lou Pascalou, one of my favorite spots in Paris, and ended the night here. We spoke French all night. She is very patient…

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I walked to Rue Sainte Marthe, in the 10th, on the  fringes of my hoods.

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And back to Oberkampf, and a goodbye shot from the second floor of L’EstaminetIMG_0939

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My moment of serendipity came as I was waiting for the metro after my lunch with Kathryn.

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(This is the view from the Pont Mirabeau bridge. It makes me think of you K!)

Anyway, I was in the metro station waiting for the next train, looking at the metro map to pass the time, when an old man started talking to me in French and asking me if I knew who the Gallieni metro stop was named after. I said no, and he proceeded to tell me the story of Gallieni, how he was a general who “saved Paris from the Germans”. When I told him I didn’t know that, he asked me where I was from, and when I told him the US, well, his face lit up and he proceeded to regale me with tales of the Americans who rescued him during WWII. The train came and we sat together and I heard all about his trip to the US and about how much he loved Americans, he thinks we’re so friendly, with our “open faces”. He told me that his name was Jacques, that he was 84 (I think I got that right), As he got off the metro, he told me that he was happy to have met me. He shook my hand and told me that my French is very good. I smiled all the way down line 10.

All wasn’t fun and games as I also worked hard, very hard, to improve my French. Days and years of slogging through classes and reading silly French novels and listening to French on my IPod on the MARC train as the DC Suburbs pass by have left me with decent comprehension skills. But my verbal skills are sadly lacking, so I took a workshop at the Alliance and spent more relaxed evening at a bar at a Franglish event. I would definitely recommend it: For 12e you get a drink and an hour and a half of conversation with 5 native French speakers. It was tiring, but inspiring, and everyone there was super nice…tres sympa ! I am gonna master this language even if it takes me the rest of my life to do so.

And so, another January in Paris…feeling as always grateful that I am able to go back again, and again. And I will be back…Roniece, save me a seat at LPC. And tell Pierre (another dapper 80-something Frenchman who charmed me) that I said bonjour.

La Reine !

And in the meantime, I will spend time with my dear girlfriends on this side of the Atlantic. Candace, Liz, Tamara, Chris, Claudia, Elaine (and on the phone and on facebook, Maureen (my Boo2), and Jo, and Sara and Vickie and all of the rest of my dear Muriels, those great women all around the world, who lift me up every day)…and my mom, and Jordan. My family.

A new year, and a new life. Full of hope and joy and peace and remorse and melancholy, all at the same time.

C’est la vie, n’est ce pas ?